As you know, I don’t agree with Owen Jones all that much. However, he wrote a piece the other day that was spot on entitled, “If Blairites want a future they must divorce themselves from Blair“. In the piece, Owen describes beautifully how a need to link themselves with Blair continually undermines the right of Labour and their desire to gain control of their party again.
He points out something I hadn’t thought about previously – that when New Labour was establishing itself, it didn’t present its vision as a continuation of the Wilson government. Instead, it talked of itself as something totally new. The lesson here is that even if Blair wasn’t extremely unpopular with the British public, the right of Labour would need to come up with something new anyhow, just as Blair and his circle did back in the 1990s. That’s how the centre-left always wins elections – by being bold, new and exciting.
But while we’re on the topic, boy is Blair ever unpopular with the British public. Jones cites some polls, but I won’t repeat this information – anyone who has lived in Britain for more than a year since somewhere around 2005 can tell you that this is obvious. His post-premiership career has far from helped this image problem. So the left of Labour do indeed have a point when they say the right looks ridiculous when it gives them lectures about electability – standing on a platform of “let’s have a repeat of Tony” wouldn’t win anyone a general election these days either.
If the centre-left wants to win back Labour members and from there win a general election again, it needs to invent a whole new mojo. This is easier said than done, I realise. But asking for one type of nostalgia (albeit one that did actually win elections at one point) over another really will never work. It is the one thing that unites Labour members and the general electorate: they will not buy into a version of the centre-left that explicitly feels retro. I know, I know: Corbynism is retro on stilts. The point is that Jeremy never presented it as such and the Labour members don’t think of it that way. Corbynistas are, almost to a person, blind to the fact that their whole ideology is incredibly retrograde.
So Blairites, do the thing that feels very odd indeed and listen to Owen Jones just this once: let go of the ghost of Tony. He’s doing you no favours at all. Chilcot is going to make that all the more apparent in a few weeks time. The one thing you should take from Blair in planning the future is what he did when he first became Labour leader: establish a whole new way of thinking about the world and the future. And then future just might be yours.